One of the earliest poems by Sujata Bhatt, ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt’ was published in her debut collection of poetry, Brunizem (1988). Sujata Bhatt was five years old when her grandfather Nanabhai Bhatt passed away. This piece is written in memory of her grandfather who was an influential figure in her family. He was a well-known activist, who contributed to rural education in Gujarat, an Indian state along the western coast. He remained in close contact with Mahatma Gandhi throughout his life.
Explore For Nanabhai Bhatt
‘For Nanabhai Bhatt’ by Sujata Bhatt describes what kind of a person Nanabhai Bhatt was.
This poem is about the personality of the speaker, Sujata Bhatt’s grandfather, Nanabhai Bhatt. Old Bhatt appears in her dream as a patient, wise, and optimistic figure. The speaker discusses one incident of Gandhiji meeting her grandfather about a six-year-old girl whom he adopted. Gandhi in order to teach her a lesson about personal looks hurt the girl. When he came to the speaker’s grandfather to express his trouble, he stood before him in a silent and composed fashion. Whenever the speaker dreams of her grandfather, she sees him in this old, familiar posture.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
Bhatt’s narrative poem ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt’ begins with a dream and goes on to recount one incident from her grandfather’s life in which the influential leader Mahatma Gandhi was present. The text consists of three stanzas. The first two are shorter than the third stanza, which details the event. There is no set rhyme scheme or meter in the poem. It is composed in free verse from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The speaker is the poet Sujata Bhatt herself.
Bhatt uses the following literary devices in her poem ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt.’
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the poem. For instance, the first two lines of the poem are enjambed: “In this dream my grandfather/ comes to comfort me.”
- Alliteration: The repetition of an initial consonant sound in neighboring words can be found in the following phrases: “comes to comfort,” “color of a crow’s,” “cared too much for clothes,” “didn’t touch dinner,” etc.
- Imagery: In order to describe her grandfather’s eyes, Bhatt refers to the color of a crow’s feather in mud. The light in his eyes is described with the image of “sharp mountain-top light.”
- Metaphor: Bhatt uses the phrase “true hermaphrodite” in order to describe Gandhiji. Hermaphrodite means one who has both sexual characteristics, in simple terms, has self-sufficiency. This metaphor describes how Gandhi was as a person.
In this dream my grandfather
comes to comfort me.
the color of a crow’s feather in children’s mud,
yet filled with sharp mountain-top light.
In the first stanza of the poem, ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt,’ Sujata Bhatt talks about her dream about her grandfather, Nanabhai Bhatt, who dedicated his life to the social upliftment of the rural folks of Gujarat. He was a teacher, writer, philosophical thinker, and activist, and shared the values of Mahatma Gandhi.
In her dream, Bhatt sees her grandfather in a familiar way. He appears in her dream to comfort her. In the dream, he can be seen standing apart silently and his face is always patient. His calmness is a reflection of the unyielding hope in his heart. Besides, his face is as patient as the trees he planted that stand silently on “hot typhoid days,” a metaphorical reference to scorching summer days. The silence of the trees promises no rain, but momentary solace. Bhatt’s grandfather was like the silent trees of summer.
In the next stanza, Bhatt goes on to talk about her grandfather’s eyes. The color of his eyes is similar to that of a crow’s feather smeared in children’s clay. Though his eyes are not that shining and dimmed with age, they reflect hope, wisdom, and, most importantly, the stability of mind and heart. In order to describe his eyes, Bhatt refers to the “sharp mountain-top light.” It is the light of hope and tranquility that radiates from his eyes.
I’m sure this was the face the true bald man,
Gandhiji saw when he confessed
to teach her
not to look in mirrors so often.
In the third stanza onwards, Bhatt describes one incident where he saw her grandfather in the way described in the earlier stanzas. She is sure that this is the same face that Gandhi saw when he came to his grandfather to confess about a six-year-old Harijan girl. Gandhi adopted the girl in order to educate her in his ways.
When he came to discuss what the matter was with the girl, he saw the eyes of her grandfather that she sees in her dream. Besides, she describes Gandhi as the true hermaphrodite or one who has both the qualities of a father and a mother. This is why he took the step of adopting the girl.
Then Bhatt continues to narrate the conversation between her grandfather and Gandhi. Gandhi described how the girl cared too much for clothes and her looks. One day, she had her hair bobbed as it was the “latest fashion” these days. For Gandhi, it was too much as her wish contradicted the ascetic ways Gandhi rigorously followed and preached during the “Satyagraha” movement.
This is why he went on to teach her a lesson. Without any further ado, he had her hair shaved. He wanted to teach her not to look at herself in the mirror too often as it would divert her attention from the truth and would propel her towards adopting conventional ways of femininity.
At this point Gandhiji turned
towards my grandfather and allowed, so softly:
looked at him with the same face
he shows in my dream.
After narrating the incident with the girl, Gandhiji softly told Bhatt’s grandfather the events that followed after. The girl, being young, could not understand Gandhi’s broader purpose and the lesson he tried to teach her with the bold step of shaving her head. She continued crying and he could not stop her crying. Furthermore, she stopped eating and continued crying throughout the night. He even brought her to his room and tucked her in his bed to sing her devotional songs also known as bhajans. All she did was cry.
So, Gandhi stayed awake with her. The next morning he could not think clearly. He could not discuss the plan to set up rural schools with the speaker’s grandfather. Her grandfather understood Gandhi’s predicament. He knew Gandhi was correct, but his ways were too harsh with the six-year-old girl. This is why he remained silent and stood with the same patient face that the speaker sees in her dream.
Sujata Bhatt’s narrative piece ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt’ is written in memory of Nanabhai Bhatt. In this poem, Bhatt talks about how her grandfather appears in her dream. Then she goes on to narrate one conversation between him and Gandhiji.
Nanabhai Bhatt was an educator, thinker, and activist from the Indian state of Gujarat. Bhatt was the grandfather of poet Sujata Bhatt who was five years old when he died. He was actively involved in the Indian independence movement and worked for the social development of rural Gujarat.
The theme of this personal poem is relationship and love. This piece also taps into the themes of truth, patience, hope, and wisdom. Overall, this piece is about the poet’s grandfather who was an inspiration to her.
The text of this poem comprises three stanzas. It is a narrative poem written in free verse without any set rhyme scheme or meter. Bhatt wrote this poem from the first-person perspective narrating what kind of a person her grandfather Nanabhai Bhatt was.
The following poems tap on familiar themes present in Sujata Bhatt’s free-verse piece ‘For Nanabhai Bhatt.’ You can also read more Sujata Bhatt poems.
- ‘Grandfather’ by Michael S. Harper — This powerful poem is about Harper’s grandfather and racism in the United States.
- ‘Climbing My Grandfather’ by Andrew Waterhouse — This autobiographical piece is about a childhood memory of the poet with his grandfather.
- ‘A Child to his Sick Grandfather’ by Joanna Baillie — This poem details a young boy’s efforts to improve the life of his dying grandparent.
- ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney — This poem talks about the ties the poet share with his father and grandfather.
You can also explore these moving poems about family.